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Free Content Gambling on the Future: Casino Enclaves, Development, and Poverty Alleviation in Laos

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Following the extraordinary wealth generation of casinos in Macau and Singapore, governments and non-state actors across Southeast Asia have developed gambling establishments as a means of fast-tracking economic growth and stimulating national development. Yet, here and elsewhere, casinos have been heavily criticized for their association with immoral behaviour, problem gambling, corruption, and organized crime. In this article, I focus on two casinos in northern Laos to address two research questions. First, I consider how casinos have come to exist within the remote border regions of one of Asia's least developed countries. I discuss vice economies within the Golden Triangle region, multi-actor aspirations to boost transnational connectivity within continental Southeast Asia, strengthening political-economic relationships between Laos and China, and Government of Laos efforts to use foreign investment as a mechanism for increasing governance capacities in borderlands. Following this, I critically analyze the relationship between casinos and development in Laos. I focus specifically on the multifarious effects of casinos on the lives and livelihoods of local communities to argue that casino development has been informed by logics of expulsion and the establishment of new predatory formations. To make this argument, the article draws on four fieldwork visits to each of the casino sites between 2011 and 2015, desk-based research, and interviews with local residents, casino staff, and members of the Government of Laos.
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Keywords: CASINOS; CHINESE TOURISM; EXPULSION; GREATER MEKONG SUBREGION; LAOS; SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2017

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